St Mark the Evangelist and His Gospel*
“ST MARK … is generally supposed to have been of Jewish extraction. From the style of his writings, abounding in Hebraisms, he would seem to be better versed in the Hebrew than in the Greek language. It is said by some … that he was one of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord, and among those who deserted Him, in consequence of being scandalized at His doctrine on the subject of the adorable Eucharist (John 6:66). These also add, that he was again converted and brought back by St. Peter. The more commonly received opinion, however, is, that he never heard our Lord in the flesh; and had never been amongst His followers; that it was only after our Lord’s resurrection [that] he embraced the faith for the first time, having been converted by the preaching of the Apostles, particularly of St. Peter, whose disciple and interpreter he became; that it was to him St. Peter refers [1 Peter 5:13], when he speaks of his “son Mark,” having begotten him in the faith …
“He accompanied St. Peter on his journey to Rome, and we learn from the testimony of the ancients, that he wrote his Gospel at the urgent request of the faithful of Rome, who were anxious to have an enduring record of what the Prince of the Apostles taught them with such unction, by word of mouth…
“St. Peter sent several of his disciples to found Churches in different provinces. He sent St. Mark to preach the Gospel at Alexandria (then reputed the second city in the world next to Rome, and afterwards, the second See in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy), and in the surrounding countries, embracing Egypt, Thebais, Lybia. He preached there his written Gospel which he carried with him from Rome, and having founded the Church of Alexandria, and others in Egypt and the surrounding countries, he received the crown of martyrdom (Council of Rome under Gelasius, Tom. iv.), about the year 68 of our Lord, 14th of Nero, three years after the death of Saints Peter and Paul.
“Some writers confound our Evangelist with John Mark, the kinsman of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), of whom there is mention in the Acts of the Apostles (12:12–25; 13:13; 15:37)… Our Evangelist is, however, supposed to be a different person altogether. For, John Mark had been with St. Paul at Rome about the year 62—the date of the Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon, in which Epistles St. Paul refers to him; and it is generally held, that [St Mark] the Evangelist had not been then at Rome, having left for Alexandria about the year 60. Nor have we any record of John Mark having ever become the disciple and interpreter of St. Peter, as the ancients testify regarding Mark the Evangelist… [curent scholarship–as seen in the New American Bible, used by the Church in her liturgical celebrations–attributes the writing “traditionally” to John Mark].
“… It was at the earnest request of the faithful of Rome [that] St. Mark, the disciple of St. Peter, [commit] to writing what the latter delivered to them by word of mouth. As St. Mark never heard our Lord, he does not exactly follow the order of events in his narrative. He follows the order in which he heard them from St. Peter, who adapted his discourses to the utility and requirements of his hearers, without attending exactly to the order of the discourses or actions of our Divine Lord… St. Mark, however, took care to write nothing except what was strictly true, and as he heard it from the lips of his master. He committed all to writing under the inspiration and impulse of the Holy Ghost…
“St. Peter, overjoyed at the edifying zeal of the faithful for the word of truth, confirmed by his authority the Gospel of St. Mark, and authorized the reading of it in the Churches. We are informed by Tertullian [and] St. Jerome … that this Gospel was attributed to St. Peter himself, seemingly because it contained what he preached, or rather, perhaps, because it was ushered into light by one of his disciples.
“In the Synopsis of Scripture bearing the name of Athanasius (Synopsi, Tom. ii., op. Athanas., p. 202), we are informed that it was St. Peter himself [who] dictated it. It is given as a great proof of the humility of the Prince of the Apostles, that his disciple, who wrote under his own eye, and perhaps at his dictation, fully records everything tending to his humiliation, such as his denial of his Divine Master; and omits everything tending to exalt him.
“It is the common opinion, that it was written in Greek, which was in general use in Rome at the time… [and] said by some, that the original autograph of St. Mark, written in Latin, is preserved in St. Mark’s Library at Venice. But the manuscript in question, which is hardly legible, is referred by critics to a later date. We are informed by St. Jerome … that he corrected the Vulgate of the New Testament, the Gospel of St. Mark included, according to the most approved Greek copies, from a conviction that the original of St. Mark was Greek, and not Latin.
“A host of ancient writers tell us St. Mark wrote his Gospel during the lifetime of St. Peter. Irenæus (if the passage quoted from him on the subject be authentic), is the only one of the Fathers who says, that the Evangelist wrote it after the departure of Saints Peter and Paul. The precise year in which it was written is uncertain. It is generally supposed, that St. Mark left Rome for Egypt in the year 60; that he wrote the Gospel at Rome some time before that, about the year 57, three [years] after his arrival at Rome with St. Peter.
“St. Augustine calls St. Mark an abbreviator of St. Matthew (de Consen. Evangel. c. 2). Hence, some critics suppose the Gospel of St. Mark to be only an abbreviation of that of St. Matthew, because he details the same facts, and in almost the same terms employed by St. Matthew. But, this hypothesis is commonly rejected. For, the description of certain events and of their circumstances in St. Mark, is quite different from that found in St. Matthew. Take, for instance, our Lord’s temptation, regarding which, he says, our Lord “was with the beasts,” which St. Matthew omits. He also records two or three miracles of which St. Matthew makes no mention whatever (Mark 1:23; 8:22; 9:16). He is more circumstantial than St. Matthew is, in his description of the decollation of the Baptist (c. 6), and of the cure of the paralytic, and of the raising of the Ruler’s daughter. He also describes the offering of the poor widow’s mites (12:42), and the apparition of our Lord to the disciples on their way to Emmaus, of which St. Matthew makes no mention whatever. On the other hand, he omits alluding to important matters recorded by St. Matthew, regarding our Lord’s human generation and infancy, or to His discourses and parables, so fully described by St. Matthew. It is clear, therefore, he could not be regarded as a mere abbreviator of St. Matthew.
“The chief object which St. Mark had in view in writing his Gospel, would seem to be to show, that our Blessed Redeemer was Sovereign Lord of all things, since, in almost every chapter, he furnishes proof of His Sovereign power, in the wonderful works he describes.”
* Adapted from MacEvilly, J. (1898). An Exposition of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (pp. 597–599). Dublin; New York: M. H. Gill & Son; Benziger Brothers.
Art: St Mark, Titian, first half of 16th century, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.